Top 10 Filipino Street Foods
The Filipino street food represents not only the need of the people to eke out a living but also the massive appetite of the workaday Juan de la Cruz (a moniker for the regular guy) as they go about their day – in between trips on the way to school or work and on the way home, at about 3PM when it’s time for ‘merienda’ or snack, or to tide them over until the next hunger pangs strike. Many Filipino street foods have also earned well-deserved spots as “pulutan” or side dish that goes well with liquor or alcohol. With the street foods seemingly everywhere, anytime, it is no wonder that the Philippine street food scene is as colorful as the people themselves.
Here are the top 10 Filipino streets foods that you should try, at least for bragging rights (but beware the high-cholesterol content of the deep-fried delights!).
1. Banana Q
The Filipinos’ take on BBQ is the ‘merienda’ favorite made of ripe “saba”, a variety of cooking banana, deep fried in caramelized sugar and skewered on bamboo sticks. A well-cooked one is not too overripe – it is chewy and not overly sweet, with the caramelized sugar melting in your mouth and sticking to your molars. A sweet potato variant is called “Camote Q.”
This one is made of the same (over)ripe “saba” rolled in thin rice wrapper and deep fried in the same caramelized sugar. Given the penchant of the Filipino to recycle kitchen leftovers, “turon” indeed makes a lot of sense instead of throwing away overripe bananas. But of course, they can be made from bananas in their prime. In Manila and Luzon, the banana usually comes wrapped with ripe jackfruit.
3. Fish Ball
Instead of your usual meat ball, you have a fish-tasting dough rolled into small balls and deep fried (again!) in frothing hot oil. Because of the high cost of ingredients, fish balls are not necessarily made from fish or seafood – at least, not in the streets – but just flour and seafood flavoring. Dip in a recommended sauce – usually hot and spicy or sweet or sweet and sour – and you have street food heaven to tide you over to the next meal. Similar variants but of different shapes are tempura – a borrowed Japanese dish that is supposedly made of shrimp coated in batter or other seafood and vegetables dunked in hot oil – and kikiam (que kiam) – a Chinese-inspired ground pork and vegetables wrapped in bean curd sheets and dunked in the same hot oil. This being the streets, the best you can expect is the same roll of dough flavored with appropriate seasoning (like fish or pork cubes).
4. Kwek Kwek
No, deep fried foods don’t just stop at fruits and seafood – eggs, too, suffer the same fate! Coat a quail egg in flavored batter and dunk it in a bubbling cauldron of hot oil and you have a quick “kwek kwek.” The bigger version made of chicken egg goes by the frivolous name of “tokneneng.”
Here’s another instance where Filipino kitchen resourcefulness has gone mainstream. In a separate post, we told you about “sisig” – the story of how pig heads are discarded by kitchens in the American base of Pampanga in the 1970s and turned into a delicious dish of chopped brains and pig ‘mask’ by an enterprising Filipina “carinderia” (small eatery) owner. Chicken intestines coated in batter have not escaped a similar destiny – you guessed it right – they are once again thrown into a pool of piping hot oil and skewered on bamboo sticks. In the Visayas, home of the popular chicken “inasal” (grilled chicken skewered on the ubiquitous bamboo stick), “isaw” is grilled in fiery red charcoal and then dunked in soy sauce and coconut vinegar. The really brave mince several heads of native chili and then throw it in the sauce. People from Davao in southern Philippines call this “proben” from the proventriculus part of the chicken. Another variant is “adidas” made from discarded chicken feet which are boiled, coated in batter, and deep fried!
6. Fruits in season
During mango season, expect that vendors would dole out “Indian” mango on sticks or in plastic wrappers for five or ten pesos. Or they may choose to push around carts containing “buko”, young coconuts which are chopped open on the spot!
7. Ice scramble and dirty ice cream
To deal with the heat, Filipinos scrape ice from a block and top it with milk and chocolate or other flavorings. The common Filipinos’ take on Haagen Dazs is the “dirty” ice cream – made in the backyard and usually in conditions considered unsanitary by the food authorities. Nevertheless, “dirty” ice cream is no longer dirty, as more and more vendors make theirs in clean environments to maintain quality and taste. Some of the most flavorful ice cream come in five-peso cones. The variety of flavors is as extensive as the kind of fruits, so you can have mango, ube (purple yam), buko (young coconut) and the all-time favorite, chocolate.
A morning meal favorite hot off the press is “bibingka” or rice cake cooked in traditional wood-fired oven. Wash down with native coffee or “sikwati” (Visayan term for hot chocolate made from native cacao) and you have all the carbohydrates and sugars you need! The steamed version is “puto”, a spongy rice cake that goes well with “dinuguan” or pig blood stew.
The Filipino street food popcorn is the same popcorn you buy in the movie house on a fancy wrapper. The street version is cheaper but no less tasty.
The iconic Filipino street food, “balut” is boiled duck embryo. The best-tasting ones are usually 12- to 15-days old; the egg yolk should be light yellow. Not all Filipinos love to munch on a hapless and nearly featherless duck chick, but the egg yolk is worth cracking the shell.